All rights reserved observations

Very many users do not look at their licenses at all, but simply click “yes” on the proposed by system when registering. So it would be good if the system in all cases and for all registration paths would offer GBIF-friendly licenses by default, and if anyone wants to have “all rights reserved”, then a person concerned about this issue can set such a level manually.


100% agree. Creative Commons licences should be the default choice rather, with a possibility to opt to copyright.


Claiming rights on an observation (which is basically a non-copyrightable factual statement) is always a bit dodgy. In fact, the license options GBIF offers besides CC0 were a compromise to address some unrelated concerns in the discussion.

In my opinion it would be more correct and intuitive to make a single distinction: do you want your observations shared with GBIF, or not? It would be great to be able to filter for this and have it clearly visible. I would even go so far as to say that “Research grade” loses its meaning if an observation is not being shared.


Not sure if you are suggesting this default be for just observations or both them and photos.

This was covered in a very long thread here

For observations I really have no opinion since you can’t copyright a fact anyways, the issue here is people cutting and pasting already copyrighted text and then ‘relicensing’ it.

For photos, I 100 percent disagree. Too many users would be somewhere between upset, angry or surprised to find out they have licensed away rights to their photos via a open license. If a user wishes to do so, that’s great, but they should be the ones making that decision and actively implementing it. Not having it made for them in something few users review or read.


I changed my default license when I found out that Wikipedia does not allow CC-BY-NC. I didn’t know the other fact about GBIF until just now. If I had known that, I would have changed my default license to accommodate both Wikipedia and GBIF.

That’s a great idea. Be sure to ask about Wikipedia separately:

Do you want to share your photos with Wikipedia?
Do you want to share your observations with GBIF?

That’s much better than asking a naive user about actual licenses.


I am definitely on board with having plainer language and a more permissive default license for observation data. I think most people do want to share their data when they come on the site, and I’ve heard of folks who thought they were sharing data when they weren’t (they didn’t realize they had their default observation license to all rights reserved which they picked for their photos). Hcek, I didn’t understand the difference for a long time.

It’s a complicated topic that we shouldn’t assume the average or beginning user will understand.

I think changing this default is probably one of the single biggest changes that iNat could make to increase data-sharing (and I think it would be broadly supported).

I understand a lot of the issues for and against the current default photo license (in threads cited by @earthknight and @cmcheatle above), and my sense is that, while the current situation is a compromise that leaves no one perfectly happy, there isn’t going to be a strong consensus to change it.

So leaving the photo license issue aside, I think having an option that says something like that proposed by @wouterkoch is a good idea:
“Do you want to share your observation data with scientists?” (and then one of the little question hover icons that would explain this means your data will be shared to GBIF and what license it would have).

I’d also be in favor of having the option to filter for observations (not just photos) by licensing, as I’d prefer to concentrate on observations being shared and not restricted. Being able to filter for those could also address issues like those in this thread, with questions about sharing/citing maps from iNat which show both observations with licenses that allow sharing and those that are all rights reserved.


O’k, but then it shall be better to make this stage of registration less “automatic”, say, not to issue a default license at all, but ask to choose (as a mandatory stage of registration). Because really too many people do not think at all about what licenses they have and what follows from this.


Maybe the observation can be added to GBIF from iNat once research grade, just without the images, if the images are the only problem?

Also, I really don’t think anybody has GBIF in mind when they reserve rights on their images. Couldn’t this be added to the fine text somewhere on the site?


This already happens assuming the observation is licensed appropriately.

All my RG records are in GBIF without the photos (my photos are licensed All rights reserved - I’m not a professional photographer or anything, I just don’t think it is unreasonable to wish people to ask to use my property).


They ask it anyway, I have CC-BY-NC and still they write me to ask that, I really believe those will always ask you while others won’t care about all rights reserved.


As I understand it, the observation data will go to GBIF if the observation license is set correctly, regardless of the photo license. So users can set their photo licenses to all right reserved and still have data go to GBIF.


This sums up what I think quite well!


Although GBIF is probably the main source for people wanting to use iNaturalist observations, I think that any questions that could be used to determine whether a person wants to share their observations or not should not be restricted to GBIF as observations could be accessed through other platforms. For example, it is also possible to download observations directly from iNat.

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Here’s just one example from me as an author: I’ve prepared a number of papers for publication which have utilized images downloaded from iNaturalist. But I never even bother to check the license status of the individual observer because I explicitly contact each observer in advance regarding the use of their image(s). If I get permission (which has never been refused), I use it; if not, I don’t. It’s just that simple. That bypasses any worries or tedium about checking for licensing limitations. It’s always, “Used by permission”, and I always acknowledge the contributing observers in the published paper. When I contact an observer (via iNat or by email), I’ll always include a brief description of the research, the intended target publication, and may even explain how I would use the image.


Contacting each observer could be possible if you worked on a single species with few observations or in a restricted geographical area. But, suppose you are working on a group of species throughout their whole range or you are working on a large scale biodiversity assessment across several taxa. It would be absolutely impossible to contact each and every observer contributing to the datasets needed for such questions. Also, the concerns here are for the copyright of observations, not images. I completely understand why someone would retain complete rights over their images.


I started looking at the other topic suggested by @earthknight and it generated another question/concern related to the licensing of observations. I actually had already read part of that discussion, but as a lot of the discussions in this forum, it is rather long and complex and a bit of a garden of forking paths… Anyway, from what I understand, observations may not be copyrightable, at least in the US, but there seems to be some uncertainty around this and it might vary across countries. Suppose that they are and an observation has a CC license. All CC licenses seem to require that the licenser be credited for their work. Suppose one wants to publish a paper making use of the observations of several thousands of observers with CC licenses. The CC license seems to imply that every observer should be credited in the paper for the use of their work. Is that right? If so, wouldn’t it make a bit impossible to make such a use of observations? Thousands of observers cannot easily be credited at once. Is my understanding correct? I’m new to licenses and I find this rather complicated!

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@frousseu, Now I understand the distinction you’re making. I have a hard time believing that reporting the occurrence of an organism at a particular time and place would be licenseable information. I’m trying to imagine any analogies. Scientists don’t copyright individual data points, but they can protect the products built upon those data points–images, graphs, whole publications. I can’t think of a natural history study wherein every individual observation in a collection was acknowledged. As you say, that would make the analysis and publication of such accumulated data nearly impossible. Products (including the images of an organism, since that is a product of an effort of the observer utiliziing skills and equipment, etc.) produced from raw data may certainly be protected, copyrighted, or licensed, yes; but not the raw data. In my mind, the observations on iNaturalist are the raw data. Do other folks have a substantially different view of this?

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Just to clarify: I was only taking about observations, the images are obviously copyrighted and should remain under full control of the owner at all times, who may wish to share or not. A copyrighted picture will still be perfectly fine as documentation for an observation, which imo is their most important function.

Regarding @frousseu 's comment on attributing individuals, this is called “attribution stacking” and was a major part of the discussion in GBIF when standardizing licenses (disclaimer, I took part in those discussions). Simply put, from version 4.0 of the CC licenses, attribution is a lot more flexible than before. So even if the license was enforceable because the observation is copyrighted, with the new license “reasonableness” applies to all attribution. This means that an electronic appendix, or, even easier, citing the DOI for the GBIF dataset, is enough attribution, as it is very easy to find out exactly who contributed with what.

I really like the suggestions by @cthawley on simplifying it to “sharing with scientists”, although maybe just “sharing” is even better, as use is not limited to research purposes. This also captures Wikimedia and all others. I’m such a nerd that for me GBIF is just synonymous with sharing, but this is much clearer ;)

One should be really really careful with changing defaults. Users, also those willing to share, are allergic to the idea that they share rights without choosing to do so explicitly. And rightfully so. Changing the default for new accounts, and signalling the option to do so for existing users is the max, I think.


Thanks for the clarifications. This is reassuring! I agree that any changes to defaults should be made only toward new accounts.


I generally agree with your take on this. As near as I understand, there’s no copyright for facts (which data are).

The licensing for observation data seems to be in part for other things that go along with observations, like any comments, but also because repositories like GBIF want a license to go along with any data they aggregate. My guess is that some of this is just a CYA move, but I’d be interested in reading anything that really covers this point from an expert or letting me know if I’m wrong here! So I think iNat needs to attach a license to have their observation data be shareable, so that’s why there’s this option for users.

My main point, however, is that we likely have a system where iNat observations are going to have a license (even if that might seem unnecessary), and, if people choose an all rights reserved license, they may likely be preventing sharing/use of their data when they intended to share it. Since doing away with observation licenses altogether seems very unlikely, I think it would be more impactful to consider how we could change the default observation license and/or the wording when users select an observation license to promote users selecting observation licenses that promote sharing/use of the data they generate.